Dangerous Clowns (Part 4)
By Pamela Troy
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
[Part 4 of a 4-Part Series.
Part 1 is at http://www.buzzflash.com/analysis/05/05/ana05015.html
Part 2 is at http://www.buzzflash.com/analysis/05/05/ana05016.html
Part 3 is at http://www.buzzflash.com/analysis/05/05/ana05017.html]
The Sleep of Reason
“Why do the French make
war on us?” she asked.
“Why do you make war on the Poles?” I said.
“Hum,” she said, a blank over her face. “but the French, they’re human
beings,” she said finally.
“But the Poles, maybe they’re human beings,” I asked.
“Hum,” she said, blank again. -- From William Shirer’s Berlin Diary
The far right was the first to
establish a beachhead on the Internet in the early ‘90s, taking advantage
of what was, for them, a promising demographic of mainly young white male
techies from the middle class. An examination of exactly how this happened
is the subject for another article. For the purposes of this piece, it’s
enough to simply state the early right-wing/libertarian dominance of the
Internet as a given.
The resulting right-wing online echo chambers, which have dramatically
sped up and broadened the dissemination of talking points, rumors, and
grassroots campaigns, might not have invented the tactics of disinformation
and personal attack, but they did help amplify their effects, while at
the same time making them less obvious to a population still used to getting
its news from television, the radio, and newspapers. Talk Radio has often
been invoked as a detriment to intelligent discussion, and it certainly
bears some responsibility for the decline in 21st century political discourse,
but the effect of the Internet is just as often underestimated, perhaps
because unlike radio, it’s less evident in the physical world. And the
effect of these online and radio echo chambers on how their often youthful
participants think about issues and grasp important elements of discussion
like logic and context has been ignored, perhaps because the implications
are too disturbing.
Julius Streicher was guilty of many sins. Insincerity is not one of them.
However cynically his rhetoric may have been used by Nazi intellectuals,
he seems himself to have been a mentally limited man who was honestly
brutal, inconsistent, and hateful and who truly saw his own actions as
just. Because it was passionate and sincere, and disseminated and backed
by powerful interests, Streicher’s moral and intellectual obtuseness spread
like an epidemic through an entire generation of Germans. What seemed
to be mindless posturing and hyperbole became not just political theater,
but political action, and eventually political policy.
Today, many of us who have followed politics for more than two decades
are dismayed by the inability of some Americans to coherently or rationally
discuss political differences. It’s bad enough that many conservatives
seem unable to distinguish between liberalism and Communism. Many are
apparently also unable to distinguish between a political disagreement
and personal attack. Not only do they offer invective in lieu of argument,
but they interpret the statement of disagreement as an intolerable insult
and a violation of their own freedom of speech. The notion that a liberal
has the right to argue with them, the right to disagree with the president,
the right to demonstrate is treated as if it were foreign to them and
a bit shocking. This should not surprise any of us in a society where,
for twenty years, Right-Wing Talk Radio and discussion forums have been
the primary vehicles for political debate. Streicher’s methods have proven
effective once again.
The purpose of this piece has been to use Julius Streicher not to predict,
but to warn. We’re unlikely to see a straight re-enactment of Nazi Germany,
with minorities and liberals herded into gas chambers, but there is plenty
to fear in the long stretch between where we are now and outright genocide.
Speaking of entire groups of people in a violent and dehumanizing way
fosters an illusion of strength and purpose more appealing than rational
argument. When it’s done on a mass scale, it becomes especially dangerous.
Legal and extra-legal persecution, beatings, fire-bombings, blacklists,
even the arrest and imprisonment of dissidents can come to seem understandable
to people used to hearing dissidents described as America’s enemies. It’s
not even necessary to directly advocate the repression of those presumed
enemies. Just point them out and call them dangerous. Readers and listeners
will know exactly what they are expected to do about it.
When the end came for Streicher, he insisted that what had happened in
Germany was not really his fault at all. "During the whole 20 years
I never wrote in this context, ‘Burn Jewish houses down; beat them to
death,’” he said, in his closing statement at Nuremberg.
Streicher may very well have been technically correct in his claim that
he never directly pointed at a people and ordered his readers to physically
He didn’t have to.
[This is the conclusion of "Dangerous
Clowns," presented as a 4-part series.]
by Pamela Troy
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS